BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers passed a resolution on Thursday calling for the bloc to stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to take Russian natural gas to Europe, in response to the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was detained at the weekend and later jailed for alleged parole violations after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned by a military grade nerve agent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has continued to back the pipeline between Germany and Russia despite criticism elsewhere in the EU, said on Thursday her view of the project had not changed despite the Navalny case.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to block the pipeline construction work, with 581 votes in favour, 50 against and 44 abstentions, calling on the EU to review relations with Russia in light of Navalny’s arrest.
“The European Parliament … calls on the EU and its member states to critically review cooperation with Russia in various foreign policy platforms and on projects such as Nord Stream 2, the completion of which the EU must stop immediately,” the resolution said.
Separately, Germany’s regulator said on Thursday it is awaiting details for complaints against Nord Stream 2 after environmental groups filed a challenge to construction.
Nord Stream 2 is designed to double capacity of the existing undersea Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany to 110 billion cubic metres per year, more than half of Russia’s overall pipeline gas exports to Europe.
Led by Russia’s Gazprom with Western partners, the pipeline is more than 90% complete and scheduled to operate from this year. The United States is fiercely against Nord Stream 2, imposing sanctions on a ship involved in construction work.
The project has split the EU, with some members saying it will undermine traditional gas transit state Ukraine and increase the bloc’s energy reliance on Russia.
The EU should “devise a new strategy for the EU’s relations with Russia, centred around support for civil society, which promotes democratic values, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and human rights,” the resolution said.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Kate Abnett; Editing by David Evans and Steve Orlofsky)